The spread of hoaxes can pose a threat to public health

ANA SERRA// Fake news and hoaxes have found the ideal ecosystem for disseminating on the Internet and in instant messaging applications. Research papers, such as the one published in the 2018 Health Policy and Technology magazine, have shown how fake news can pose a threat to public health.

Likewise, an article published in the BMJ magazine pointed out the characteristics of what is known as denialism, that is on occasions, the prelude to disinformation; that is,identification of conspiracies; use of false experts; selectivity of citation; creation of impossible expectations of research; misrepresentation and logical fallacies and manufacture of doubt.

A time of global health crisis, of fighting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, can become the perfect scenario for the spread of health hoaxes

Beyond the ethical limits of spreading false news, there are numerous examples that show how the dissemination of hoaxes in the health field pose a threat to public health. One of the most obvious examples is the false but widespread idea of ​​the supposed relationship between vaccination and autism spectrum disorder.

Thus, at a time of global health crisis, of fighting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, can become the perfect scenario for the spread of health hoaxes. For this reason, the NoRumourHealth project has been working since last year to fight against disinformation in health and its consequences in the population over 65 years of age. We are working on the design of an application for mobile, although at the moment, following the health recommendations, we have postponed all our activities until the situation returns to normal.

People over 65: a sector of the population especially sensitive to disinformation

A research published by the European Research Council, carried out in the United States during the 2016 presidential election campaign, revealed that users over 65 are most likely to share fake news. In fact, this population group shared on average up to seven times more content from fake domains than the youngest population.

The difficulty in fighting disinformation is that recent research published in the magazine Health Communication in 2018 shows that taking down hoaxes, once they have been taken for granted, is more complex than simply offering evidence that the information was wrong. Furthermore, the fact that a news item is perceived as true or false depends more on psychological factors than on scientific education and culture. Thus, previous research shows that for false beliefs to be effectively dismantled, correction must be done instantly and in such a way that the user does not feel that his world view is threatened, as it is concluded by research published in Memory and Cognition in 2014.

No Rumour Health is an international project coordinated by ScienceFlows from la UVEG in which also participate Instituto Salud sin Bulos(Spain), FyG Consultores(Spain), Danmar Computers (Poland) and European Pathfinders (Grece).

[NoRumourHealth 2019-1-ES01-KA204-064037] is an Erasmus+ project funded under the Key Action 2: Cooperation for innovation and the Exchange of Good Practices, KA204: strategic Partnership for Adult Education. It has been funded with 129.543 € and has a duration of 2 years.

Translation: Amaia Crespo